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Northern water drainages influence population center locations

By Sun Advocate

Water is vital to all life. Man is one of the few land based creatures able to extend the use of water beyond drinking and bathing.
In the United States water has generally been a “taken for granted” resource in the east and the south, and somewhat less so in the midwest.
In the west however, water use, ownership and distribution has been in a state of flux.
While diversion by large dams, tunnels and canals and complicated systems of distribution has changed the landscape, one of the basic facts of life in the west still has to do with where a community is located.
What hydrologic basin of drainage a town or city is in can make a real difference as to it’s fate.
In Utah, based on an agreement between the Utah State Division of Water Resources and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there are 11 hydrologic basins.
Some are minor basins, starting in a corner Utah and quickly flow across the border into another state. Others are complexes of streams that eventually flow into even larger streams that carry the water to the sea.
Finally, there are self contained basins which are called terminal basins. Here, water flows and ends in a lake only to evaporate in time.
The basins in the northern section of Utah are amongst those that have the most water to distribute, but also serve the bulk of the population in the state. These include the Columbia, Bear River, Great Salt Lake Desert – which also extends to the south in the western part of Utah – the Weber and the Jordan River basins.
The smallest is the Columbia River drainage.In the northwest corner of Utah, there are two ranges of mountains called Grouse Creek and Raft River.
The Raft River connects to the Snake River east of Rupert, Idaho. The Snake then flows into the Columbia River.
The area in Utah drained by the system records about 18 inches of water in a normal year, according to the geological survey.
Flows are high because much of the area is comprised of mountains that accumulate high levels of snow each year.
The drainage system affects a small percentage of the state’s population with Grouse Creek. Grouse Creek is a small community in Box Elder County.
Another drainage in Utah is the Great Salt Lake Desert Basin. The hydrologic basin is located between the Idaho border – with the exception of the small section belonging to the Columbia region – south to Pine Valley north of the Escalante Desert in southwestern Utah.
West to east, the basin is located from the border of Nevada to the Oquirrh Mountains and the western side of the Great Salt Lake in the north and slowly tapers west along various mountain ranges to the south.
The area is the most arid part of the state, recording an average precipitation of only nine inches per year, indicated the national survey system.
Many years, there is virtually no runoff in the spring season in the designated areas, with the exception of some small creeks located in a few mountain ranges.
Some of the water drains in to terminal lakes.
But the flows mostly dry up or are caught by small water holes located within the area.
The largest terminal body of water in the area is the Great Salt Lake. But little of the water that flows from the area has an impact on the Great Salt Lake.
According to the results of research studies, only about eight percent of the water in the area actually ends up being runoff.
The cities in the region include Wendover, with a population of 1,527; Tooele, with a population of 22,502; and Delta, with a population of 3,183.
Many smaller towns and farming/ranching communities dot the area.
The Bear River Drainage Basin exists in the eastern half of the northern panhandle of Utah.
The Bear River system’s boundaries encompass the east side of the Great Salt Lake/Wasatch Mountains to the border of Wyoming. North to south, the basin encompasses everything from the Idaho border to a boundary including the area near Sardine Canyon and weaving southwestward toward where Interstate 80 crosses into Wyoming.
The area is divided into two subbasins, one of which drains to the north and the other drains to the south.
The Bear has the distinct identity of being a river that begins and ends in Utah, but spends most of its length flowing in the neighboring states of Wyoming and Idaho.
The Bear River Basin also includes a small piece of the Uinta Mountains.
Bear Lake is the major fresh watering hole in the drainage basin. The Bear River eventually drains into the Great Salt Lake.
Overall, the Bear River system has a precipitation level of 19.8 inches per year, high for Utah averages due to the altitude of the area and usual levels of snowfall.
The mean elevation for the Bear basin is 6,500 feet, with less than 17 percent of the drainage territory located below 5,000 feet.
Major cities in the Bear River basin are Logan, with a population of 42,670; Brigham City with a population of 17,411; and Randolph with a population of 483.
Most of the cities in the Bear River region are centered around agriculture, albeit in limited degrees because of the altitude and short summers.
Another drainage area in Utah is the Weber basin.
The Weber drainage basin extends east to west from the shores of the Great Salt Lake to the Wyoming border, north to Sardine Canyon and southeasterly into the Unita Mountains.
While the river flows through the high country, it gathers water from various tributaries and then travels down Weber Canyon where it opens up onto a flat and fertile alluvial plain.
For years, agriculture was the main source of income for people residing on the plain.
The area encompasses the northern part of the Wasatch Front in Utah.
The main population centers in the Weber basin and consists of Ogden, with 74,963 residents; Layton, with 58,474 residents; and Clearfield, with 25,974 residents. Several other areas are also included in the drainage system.
The river drains a small part of the Unita Mountains, all of Morgan County along with most of Weber and Summit counties.
In the Weber drainage, only 16 percent of the land in the area is located at less than 5,000 feet in altitude and the mean precipitation is 23 inches per year. Approximately 16 inches of the annual moisture is absorbed by the watershed indicated the geological survey.
Major water storage sites include East Canyon and Pineview reserviors.
The next basin is the Jordan River Drainage Basin. This basin includes some of the highest mountains in the state and the largest population as well.
The basin extends from the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake to Nephi. The west to east range runs from the Oquirrh Mountains and West Mountains in Utah County to parts of Summit and Juab counties.
This basin is divided into an upper and lower basin with Salt Lake County being in the lower basin and everything else in the upper portion.
There are two large natural lakes in the basin including the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake, with the former being a terminal salt lake and the latter being a fresh water lake, connected to the larger body of water by the 40 plus mile run of the Jordan River.
According to the geological survey, the high population in this area affects the waters flow almost to the drop
Most of the water that flows from the Wasatch Mountains into the Salt Lake Valley is diverted for municipal, industrial or agricultural use before it ever reaches the river
Likewise, the water flowing in the Jordan River is primarily diverted for agricultural purposes as well.
Utah Lake is fed by stream flows from the various canyons, including the two biggest sources – the Provo and Spanish Fork rivers. The Provo River flows from Wasatch and Summit counties.
The precipitation in all the areas covered by the basin averages approximately 20 inches per year. But the distribution is uneven, with some of the mountains averaging almost 40 inches annually, making up for some of the dry valleys that report less than 10 inches of precipitation per year at times.
The western mountains in the valleys create little runoff, with most of the surface flows being consumed within the watershed.
Of the 20 inches of total mean precipitation, 15 inches of water is consumed by the watershed, thus yielding only about five inches of runoff into the valleys for use.
The area boasts several large population centers. The largest cities in the basin include Salt Lake, with a population of 181,743; West Valley, with a population of 108,896; Sandy, with a population of 88,418; Provo, with a population of 105,166; and Orem, with a population of 84,324.
With the exception of the Columbia, all the basins are terminal. In the rest of the state, the story of water basins, drainage systems and population centers is different.

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